What we think

Financial journalism’s lessons for content marketing

November 2014

Earlier this year, one of the global banks sent a thought leadership paper surveying central bankers’ changing holdings to the Financial Times. The resulting article, showing that central bankers intended to cut longer-term debt holdings, led the newspaper’s front page and was widely read all over the world.

What this shows is the value of old-style financial journalism in the new world of content marketing. For banks, asset managers and insurance companies – many of which are only now catching on to content marketing – the lesson is that high-quality, long-form articles are far better at engaging readers than the short, snappy content that’s meant to rule in the internet age.

Of course, this view goes against conventional digital wisdom. But the truth is that while high-quality articles, blogs and white papers don’t necessarily generate the most online clicks, they do get read more. In other words, high-quality writing is as powerful as it always was – it’s just that it’s being published in different ways.

Readership of high-quality content is rising

Research by a leading authority on web content reveals that online readership of ‘long-form content’ is rising. John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks, a New York-based Internet incubator, analysed millions of online reads – defined as when people complete more than 75% of an article – and found them increasing all the time; especially for high-quality publications such as the AtlanticNew York Times and the Guardian.

What’s more, his analysis showed it’s wrong to pay too much attention to clicks. Most people who click on a page don’t read on. Higher quality articles, blog posts or papers typically don’t earn the highest clicks but they do get read more – which is far more valuable.

The traits of traditional journalism that count

After 15 years writing thought leadership papers and blogs, following 10 years as a financial journalist, I have lots of anecdotal evidence about how what engages interest and what doesn’t.  In particular, I think the following three journalistic principles matter:

  1. Thought leadership writing and content should have a clear point of view and, occasionally, break real news. Insightful, original articles and papers attract huge attention.
  2. Objectivity is important. The most successful thought leadership papers and blogs are entirely independent. They don’t push products and services.
  3. Good writing makes a huge difference. Like any piece of writing, thought leadership needs to be a pleasure to read.

Yet journalism and content marketing aren’t the same thing. As George Orwell, the celebrated journalist and author of Animal Farm and 1984, is reputed to have said: “Journalism is printing what someone does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

The best journalists are adversarial, constantly seeking the story that doesn’t want to be told. So, while journalism is an essential training for content writing, it takes a fundamentally different approach.

Why does this matter now?

Slowly, it’s dawning on banks, asset managers and insurers that content marketing isn’t a fad – it’s a powerful marketing tool. Some have actively written content for a few years and are very sophisticated. Their performance metrics are showing them, conclusively, that high-quality writing and content makes a difference.

Yet the majority are just beginning and don’t understand the value of high-quality content, often posting poorly written commentaries that their customers aren’t likely to find interesting.

All of which means there’s a lot they can learn about a journalist’s skills – and that there’s still a market for good writing.